- Associated Press - Sunday, March 19, 2017

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - A new coffee shop and cafe in downtown Kalamazoo is almost completely staffed by ex-offenders as part of a culinary arts program at Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program.

The Walnut & Park Cafe officially opened last week. The shop serves coffees ground by the Water Street Coffee Roaster along with homemade baked goods, breakfast and lunch dishes.

Graduates of the 10-week culinary program earn certifications in culinary arts and ServSafe, a food safety and protection program. The certifications allow them to work at the cafe and other venues in the hospitality industry.

The goal of the cafe is to help staff build their resumes so they are able to have marketable recent job experience.

Probation Enhancement Program President William DeBoer says the program wants to reduce the number of re-offenders in the state.

“We’re in the business of helping people stay out of prison or reintegrate into the community,” DeBoer said. “Part of that is to teach them some job skills. In order to live independently you have to have employment.”

DeBoer’s nonprofit has spent about $300,000 to demolish a former office building on site in order to build a nearly 1,300-square-foot coffee shop. Including construction, the nonprofit estimates it paid a total of $500,000 to start the business.

The Probation Enhancement Program is a residential and outpatient rehabilitation program serving state and federal criminal offenders, probationers and parolees. The program started as custodial building maintenance program on Jan. 9 and has eight people enrolled. It’s also trying to get a construction program going to help people get trained for jobs in that trade.

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Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, https://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo


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